SOMETIMES IT’S THE UNEXPECTED STUFF THAT CHANGES YOU

I didn’t expect everything to change this weekend. Least of all did I expect it to happen while I was watching Jay & Silent Bob Reboot but that’s kind of what happened.

I would never have described myself as a Kevin Smith fanboy. I mean I liked his films and, back when I was at college planning to become a film maker, I was inspired by his career which at the time had gone from making Clerks for next to no money to making Dogma which I absolutely loved and was one of the things (along with His Dark Materials) that showed me you could use religion in stories and not worry about who you offended.

I was at college when Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back was released and maybe that had something to do with it because there’s no better way to realise how much time has passed than by seeing a fully grown adult playing one of the main characters who was playing a baby in the first film.

But that’s not the revelation I had. That’s more like a description of the comfortable nostalgia I felt while I was watching the film.

And the film was a catalyst for change rather than a revelation itself, the final straw in something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. It seems a lot more obvious now that I’m writing these words, but I think that for a long time I was blind to it. It might seem like a dumb thing to say, but it was important to me, so I am going to give it its own line. I realised that:

I have been putting much more effort into trying to convince myself that I am a writer, than to actually writing.

It was all the other shit that I was doing that seemed like the kind of thing a writer would do but wasn’t actually “the work”. It was stuff that I know other writers do (and probably get a lot of value out of, but we’re not all the same) and knowing that I did it as well made me feel like I was a writer as well. All the while ignoring the simple fact that the ONLY thing that makes someone a writer is doing the actual writing!

So things have changed in my head now. After watching Jay & Silent Bob Reboot on Saturday night I read all of Kevin Smith’s Tough Shit on Sunday and, apart from some now very awkward references to Harvey Weinstein, that book really solidified things for me. The way I think about all of this has changed and inevitably that means that the stuff I do is going to change. More writing, less of the stuff that only made me feel like a writer.

Soundtracks

My oldest son, Jude, is six years old and has global development delays. He doesn’t speak. Which I only mention because it’s relevant to some of what follows.

Jude is very quick to pick up routines and habits. If I wear the same top a couple of days in a row it becomes something he expects to see me wearing. If I’m not wearing it but have left it somewhere he can reach then he will quite often pick it up and bring it over to me. He also likes routines and habits because they make him feel secure and that he knows what’s going to happen.

We try to use this to our mutual advantage. So, for example, there are specific songs that I sing him while he’s having his teeth brushed, when he’s having his pajamas put on, when he’s having his hair washed, etc. It took me a long time to figure this out because the actual song doesn’t matter, it just needs to be the same one every time. I am now consciously using this technique to make things better for both of us.

Which brings me to my next thought and something that I am putting into practice: using the same technique on myself.

I’m not singing songs to myself but I have used Apple Music to create some playlists for specific activities like writing and working. I already had one for running, but for some reason it had never occurred to me to do the same for other activities. Partly that was because I usually prefer to write in silence, but in a house full of noise that’s not really possible, so a soundtrack of music without vocals is possibly the next best thing.

It’s still early days for this, but I know it works for running and I know that it works for Jude, so I’m hoping for similar results in the other areas of my life where I’m trying it.

Looking Ahead

On Sunday I was out running. I set myself the goal of doing 10K, which, after a couple of months of only running 5K’s, I was worried about. I set out, not sure that I could manage it and in the end I did. What helped immensely was that I stopped thinking about running the whole distance. I looked at the road ahead of me and focused on getting about ten metres ahead. And it occurred to me that there’s a lesson to be learned there.

When I run a 5K I can hold the whole thing in my head: I can think about the complete distance and still get through it, but I don’t seem able to do the same with a 10K. Which isn’t to say that I’m not capable of running a longer distance, physically I am capable but not mentally. So is the same true in other areas of life? I think so.

I can sit down and write every day, that much I can visualise, but I can’t conceptually publish a book when I’m staring at a blank page.

It’s a difficult balancing act I think. With running I had to hold the aim of running a 10K somewhere in my mind, in the same way that when I’m writing I hold the aim of publishing a story, but that wasn’t actually what I was doing. When I was running I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other. When I’m writing I focus on putting the next sentence down.

And I think that focus is the key here. What we chose to focus on can make a big difference. If you choose to focus on the biggest thing your mind can conceptualise then you could look at all the small achievements that go towards that as nothing. And at the same time you might find that it limits what you actually achieve. If the biggest thing I could view in one go was a 5K then maybe I would never run a 10K. It’s not a limiting belief in the same way as thinking ‘I can’t do X‘ but it might have the same impact.

Which is why habits are so important. I have the habit of writing every day, that’s all I need to think about when I’m sitting down.

Disruptions

Yesterday we had a bit of a clear out at home and I dedicated the bottom drawer in my bedside table as a charging station. It is where all of my most used electronic devices now live (the ones which are used less often are in a plastic tub under the bed). Once I’d finished setting it up I started to think about what I was going to get out and when. Some of it is obvious: I will get my headphones out when I want to listen to music, but others not so much.

It occurred to me that the default was that I would have certain things with me all the time, or at least within easy reach. My phone being the main culprit there. But with a new default (the bottom drawer) I started to think about what that was going to mean when I was working. Which led me to realise how many potential disruptions I was surrounding myself with.

Old Count of disruptions at work

  1. Personal Phone: Messages
  2. Personal Phone: Phone calls
  3. Personal Phone: Whatsapp
  4. Apple Watch: Messages
  5. Apple Watch: Phone calls
  6. Apple Watch: Stand reminders
  7. Work Phone: Messages
  8. Work Phone: Phone calls
  9. Work Computer: Email
  10. Work Computer: Google Hangouts messages
  11. Work Computer: Google Hangouts calls
  12. Work Computer: Jabber

Which doesn’t even cover the things that might not send me messages to disrupt me but that I might just pick up and check on my phone. It’s a crazy amount of things that could be breaking my concentration.

A brief aside – I have been struggling to decide what to do with my Apple Watch for some time. It doesn’t really fit in with my lifestyle to have a small square strapped to my wrist. But at the same time it’s very useful for tracking my workouts and as a silent alarm so I don’t wake up the whole house in the morning. It seemed like a waste to only use it for those things while it was always out, but now it’s in a drawer I don’t feel the same responsibility to use it all the time.

There are some distractions that I can’t do anything about. My boss wants me to be available on instant messenger so I have to have that running, but I considered my options and came up with this:

New Count of disruptions at work

  1. Work Phone: Messages
  2. Work Phone: Phone calls
  3. Work Computer: Email – but I keep it paused using Boomerang so it’s not constantly disrupting me
  4. Work Computer: Google Hangouts messages
  5. Work Computer: Google Hangouts calls
  6. Work Computer: Jabber

This means that I am using my computer to listen to music, but that’s not a big problem and certainly worth doing to halve the number of disruptions I have to deal with in a day.

Time Away

As of now I am on annual leave for a week (ten days if you count the weekends and bank holidays). I have decided that I am also going to stop using a computer during this time so there won’t be any blog posts from me until 14th April.

I think it’s important, from time to time, to step away from our usual routines and examine other aspects of life. In addition to that, I don’t want to give myself the opportunity to read the news or waste time doing other things online.

My plans are to write (in my notebooks), do some gardening and spend time with my family. We will probably watch a few films among other things. I will also go running a few times and help out my elderly neighbours by collecting prescriptions and going shopping.

We had been planning to go to Scotland for the week, but obviously that’s no longer an option. Even so, there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve staring at a computer screen.

Seven Notebooks

I use seven different notebooks on an (almost) daily basis. It seems like a lot, and maybe it is, but I have tried using fewer and it doesn’t work as well for me. I have also tried using digital methods, and while it is convenient to have all of my notebooks with me at all times, I don’t enjoy it as much. And, while the digital method might only require one device, it still splits things across multiple applications, so I don’t think I am much better off that way.

These are my notebooks and what I currently use them for:

Starting from the top

  1. My pocket notebook, I carry this everywhere for making quick notes
  2. My log book, at the end of every day I write down the things that I have done
  3. I am part of a climate action group and this is where I keep my notes from meetings
  4. My journal
  5. My reading list, this is where I write down the books that I have read
  6. My writing book, this is where I write my first drafts
  7. My task manager, loosely based on the Bullet Journal system

Clearly I don’t carry all of these around with me all the time but they are each indispensable in their own ways.

 

All We Have is Now

Leave March in March. The last month has felt like a decade, February and January weren’t great either. But this is a new quarter. So let’s not dwell on what came before.

The situation we find ourselves in is beyond our control. We can’t change it. We can only make the best of the minutes, hours and days ahead of us. Try to find something to hold onto that brings you joy. Remember that neither good nor bad things last forever. All we have is now.

Analogue Methods

I have been considering returning to blogging for a long time. There are a lot of things that I like about the process. The only questions I had was the form it would take. For a while I thought it would be launching a new blog because I had something specific that I wanted to write about. That blog was going to be called Analogue Methods and I got as far as looking up the domain name, but no further.

Since I started writing here again a couple of weeks ago the idea of running two blogs has been on my mind and, to be honest, I don’t want to do that. Even with a new abundance of time. So I am going to start putting the content that would have gone on that other website here.

What is analogue methods

There are a LOT of website out there that focus on digital tools and how to use them. There are also a lot of website about stationery. Analogue Methods fits somewhere in between those two things.

I use a lot of notebooks and pens, most of my life is organised with analogue tools. In my opinion they are the superior option in almost every instance. Most of the time they are less efficient, but that is why I think they are valuable. They give the user time to think and to contemplate and I don’t want everything in my life to be optimised for efficiency. I want most of my life to be optimised for enjoyment.

Analogue Methods is my attempt to write about how I do that. The systems I have and the tools I use.

I will probably write about notebooks and pens and other tools, but that isn’t the point. I am not writing with expensive pens and I don’t think that you need to. What I want to write about most is the reasons why this stuff works and how you can try it out for yourself. I do a lot of experimenting and it seems like something that could be useful to a lot of people.

Look out for upcoming posts. I don’t have a schedule or anything but they are coming and I have created a new category so that you can see all of them in one list.

This changes everything

One day we will have this virus under control. Maybe that’s six months from now or maybe it will take longer. And when that happens we will be in a recession. Businesses are already folding and more will follow. The stock market appears to be in free fall. People will lose their jobs, their businesses, their houses. These things are already happening and they will probably get worse.

The gouvernment will try to put things back together. They will try to go back to the way things were last year. The economy will be prioritised above pretty much everything else. Back in Business will be the slogan. We will be asked to make more sacrifices to try and rebuild the world as it used to be. But should we?

It’s not just the economy that is being changed by this. People are being changed as well. In the west we no longer live in a protective bubble, sure that nothing can truly harm us. The safety net is gone. People who have never needed social aid are having to ask for it. People aren’t sure when this is going to end. We are losing our “innocence” and that is going to be the biggest change.

Going back to the way things were is impossible. The society of 2019 isn’t sitting there waiting for us to get through this, it is gone forever. We can’t go back to it, even if it was something worth going back to. We have changed and that means we aren’t going to settle for things being the way they used to be.

I don’t know what that’s going to mean. I don’t know what the world of 2021 is going to look like but I know it won’t be the same as the world of 2019. It can’t be. How can we possibly go back to cutting NHS funding when we’ve all seen how much we rely on it and the people who work in it? How can we go back to questioning a living-wage for people who work in supermarkets and as couriers when we’ve seen that we need them to keep us alive?

Things are already changing, the only question is what we want them to change into.

Weekends

I have been working from home every day for the last few weeks but this is the first week my kids have also been off school. As we aren’t allowed to leave the house we have a unique problem of how to define a difference between the weekdays and the weekend. I am not sure why it seems important to do this but it does.

There will be differences: I won’t be sitting in my office from 9 until 5 so they will see more of me. We are also unlikely to attempt the sort of formal home-schooling my wife has been doing for the last week. But other than that?

We will watch some films together. I might finally get out for a run. I will do some gardening. But we won’t be able to go out anywhere and it’s only now that it really hits me how much we are losing there.

I have always been more than happy to stay at home to work. Sitting in front of a computer is the same wherever I happen to be doing it. It’s also very rare that we go out in the evenings. On weekends we used to go out; to the cinema, for meals, to the park, for long walks. Now we can’t do any of that.

It’s going to be a strange experience. Oscar is already asking about going out and despite how much fun he’s had in the garden, Jude is also starting to get bored. And really, this is only week one of complete lock-down, we have a long way still to go.